Welcome to Hoop Dreams, a season preview unlike any other you’ll read before the 2016-17 season tips off. The premise is simple. We’ll be providing 30 of these fictional forays because it simply stinks that only one team can win the title each year. The list of contending teams seems to shrink with each campaign, and we wanted to provide something to those fans who only get to dream of Larry O’Brien during the offseason. Before October, every team can win the NBA title. Don’t believe us? Then keep reading. – Ed
It’s June 2017 and empty vodka bottles lay interspersed with champagne on the floor of the Barclays Center home locker room. Mikhail Prokhorov, fresh off a media tour that would make even Joe Lacob blush, strolls down the hall with a cigar in each hand. Brook Lopez sits near his locker, champagne soaked with a bright light emanating off his face, entranced by a particularly tough World of Warcraft battle. A media mob the size of a small village suffocates Jeremy Lin as he awkwardly fumbles his MVP trophy. The Brooklyn Nets have won the NBA title, and no one is quite sure how.
After the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade depleted the Nets asset cupboard, the brand conscious franchise was left stranded in a mediocrity desert. Without a draft pick to tank for, they picked names out of a hat to assemble a semi-competent team. Little did they know that Jeremy Lin, Luis Scola, and Anthony Bennett were a championship core in the making.
Brooklyn struggled out of the gate, as expected. The roster of misfit toys needed time to mesh and find a style of play. The season turned in a late December game when Randy Foye hit 14 threes in a late December game against the Warriors. Brooklyn eschewed their slow, plodding pace for a blistering style that pushed the Nets over 115 points per game. Once that style of play took full force, the Jeremy Lin Renaissance followed suit.
Lin wandered through Houston, Los Angeles, and Charlotte before returning to the place where Linsanity got its start. The beautiful two weeks where Jeremy Lin was the best player turned into a year-long stretch. A sea of Curry followers were converted to the house of Lin. Brooklyn once traded half a decade’s worth of picks and spent a small percentage of the national GDP to bring in a star, when their star was actually just a few boroughs over the entire time.
The Lin resurgence spilled over to teammates also trying to regain their footing in the league. Anthony Bennett took his rightful place as an elite power forward in the NBA. He basically morphed into Draymond Green with a killer isolation game. Bennett slimmed down during the season by going vegan and picking up a couple shifts at a local co-op. He never let a single media scrum go by without mentioning his newfound diet. Apparently a plant-based diet was Bennett’s only necessary path to stardom.
Lin and Bennett carried the Nets to a 57-win season that placed them second in the Eastern Conference. Their fairytale season was almost derailed when the two were caught pouring ramen into the Hudson river several times. Environmental activists protested in front of the Barclays Center during the entire first round of the playoffs.
“I…I just don’t like soup. It’s too hot. It’s too watery. It has no place in our society,” Lin would say after a Game 7 victory against Joel Embiid and the Sixers.
Mikhail Prokhorov came to Lin’s defense during an interview with Charles Barkely, in which both rode horses down a Brooklyn sidewalk. Prokhorov bought the horse to celebrate every Nets win that season. After a few scathing comments hurled toward soup apologists, Prokhorov declared his team as the rightful heir to the 2017 throne.
Brooklyn’s path to the title hit a 6’8, 250-pound road block when they faced the Cavaliers in the conference finals. However, LeBron was not ready for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to morph into an east coast version of Kawhi Leonard. Rondae tormented LeBron into seeing ghosts of 2011 JJ Barea, while Brook Lopez put on the performance of his life. Lopez averaged 32 points a game in a six-game series win for the Nets. The performance draws comparisons to prime Tim Duncan. Mikhail Prokhorov, in a celebratory haze, sends Dan Gilbert a dozen explicit e-mails about his all-night bender with the Dave Matthews Band.
Somehow, some way, Brooklyn found themselves in the finals facing the Golden State Warriors. It was a homecoming for Lin, a Palo Alto native, and he put on one hell of a show for his hometown. Brooklyn took a 3-1 lead after the Warriors suspended Draymond Green two games for leaving 19 exercise bikes in the team sauna. The Warriors stormed back to force a Game 7, but were doused by an array of Jeremy Lin buckets.
Ahead of Game 7, Prokhorov got an arena employee to write, “LIGHTYEARS” in white marker on the glass window of his box seat. He celebrated the Nets’ first NBA title by renting the Golden Gate Bridge for the night.
It was unforeseen and unconventional, but NBA champion Mikhail Prokhorov was well worth the wait.